We all knew fly fishing was for trout;
and the learning curve wouldn't be easy.
But as any fisher knows, they often fall
in love with the first species they learn
something from. With this in mind, I'll admit
I don't know what it is that makes the miniature char of the
lower 48 so utterly amazing and appealing.
I caught my first brook trout as a matter of
sheer luck and coincidence. I was relatively
new to fly fishing, and since I was around 15,
I was full of youthful enthusiasm (heck I still
am). I was trying to learn all I could about
tying and fishing dry flies, since those elusive
and adored trout were years beyond my abilities.
I had read my uncle's book by Oliver Edwards,
something about a 'Masterclass,' and gotten some
interesting ideas about how to tie a dry fly with
an extended body. So for the fun of it I tried tying
one, a #16 with a tan folded hackle body, thread
thorax, pheasant flat wings and a white parachute
style hackle. I took my only rod in possession, an
eight and a half foot 6/7 weight Pro Graphite and
the lightest tippet I had ever used, some Fenwick 4X
I picked up from Gander Mountain, down to the
local trout pond by the dam.
When I got there, I found little activity to
indicate any feeding activity. I had done the
reading, memorized books by Jorgensen and Leiser,
and thought I might be lucky to even recognize any
of the "rises" and "dimples" made by trout. Suddenly,
about 40 feet out from shore, I thought I saw what
looked like a sunfish take a bug from the surface...
but it was a little different. It was slow, easy,
and deliberate. Trout? With no clue as how to identify
bugs, I could only guess what to do. I tied that
parachute mayfly to my leader, put on some Gink
that was fatefully given to me by my uncle, and
made a cast. I was amazed at how the fly just sat
there, landed so gracefully, and sat so pristinely
on the surface. It was so perfect.
Suddenly it disappeared in a small splash. Surprise
took over, and I jumped a bit, unaware of what to
do. Reality set in just as quickly, and I tightened
up as a small, lanky, silvery fish twisted and turned
against the resistance of a 7 weight. A few seconds
later, in my hand was this little fish unlike anything
I'd ever seen before. Its fins were edged in white and
black, its back was laced with small yellow markings,
and its belly took on a tinge of fluorescent orange.
I didn't know what it was at the time, but I was
awestruck and something unimaginably deep inside
of me stirred to feel a fondness for this fish,
this little awkward gem that didn't know what
real fish should be marked like. That one little
trout ate my first dry fly I had ever tied, and
it ate it on the first awkward cast. I was fully
and utterly, for lack of a better word, hooked.
The next season I knew what brook trout were,
I knew they loved Mickey Finns, and I knew
that spring was the time to get them. I took a
couple dozen homemade Finns to the pond with
the same spool of 4X, only now I was going
"ultralight" with a 4/5 weight. For days, I
broke off trout that smashed those little
streamers with no stopping or second thoughts.
And at the same time, about half of them stuck.
Suddenly I found myself holding colorful, not
silvery, trout in my hand. Some of them were I
now realize good size, but at the time I was
catching "tiny" trout that were 13 inches
long. If only I had known the graces set forth
unto me by forces up above, but I cherished my
days nonetheless. I raced out there after school,
I made a point of it over my weekends.
And then real life hit. The dreamy mysterious
fish I had chased in my childhood was disappearing
as trips to the Big River were becoming frequent,
I knew what real trout were like. But nothing
about a 17 inch brown on 7X and #18 BWOs compared
to those spirited little brookies from the pond
could do. Nothing matched their color, their
eagerness to satisfy a heart longing for someone
looking to play, nothing could match the grace
that even the tiniest brookie carried with it.
I found the highlights of my days on the River
were those in which I took brookies--nymphs,
dries, streamers, it didn't matter and doesn't
to this day.
Then I found a real brookie stream, and I thought
I'd found heaven. Billions of eager trout ready
to eat, but somehow, it lacked the cat and mouse
game of "who had who" that the trout from my pond
at home had. It just wasn't there. Until I discovered,
beyond any doubts, the real underlying meaning of
what fishing is. One day I discovered a wild pond
that no one else knew about. It was over a hundred
yards from the main river, and it had only 20
fish in it. But they were wild, and in the crystal
clear water I could watch but not cast--the coloration
and markings on them were beyond what the books
showed. I tried to catch some, believe me I did,
but a 13 foot leader, 7X tippets, and #22 caddis
on a 1 weight didn't fool even the 4 inchers.
But once in a while fate pities the weary, and
recently I found it in myself to go check out
that pond again. With the sun setting, shadows
were no problem, and I knotted a size 22 Tak's
midge to my line, a fly that my dad had given
me to try one day--for "when you need it." Midges
were coming off the main river, so I tried it.
Same rod, same leader, same fish--and on the
third cast, a swirl appeared where I thought
my fly should have been. I tightened, and
resistance struggled back as my leader jiggled
an S curve through the glassy mirror on my
little pond. I got the fish to hand, savoring
every moment of it, and when I looked at what
I held in my hand, I felt tears appear in my
It was a wild trout, the first I had truly known.
It was slim from a hard life in the bush, and for
its length was sadly thin. But it bore the same
spirit for fight and for the fly that my trout
from back home had. It had colors beyond
comprehensible, colors that were so vivid they
flowed with life themselves as the fish they
belonged to gasped for air. It had fins that
were brighter white than bleach could have
created, and a belly so orange that it was
nearly red. Its sides were such a rich green
that a leprechaun would have been shamed, laced
with golden stripes richer than Fort Knox. It
looked at me and begged to be let go, to live
and breed in its own little pool in the woods.
I removed the midge, and let it slide back
into the water from my hand. It sat for a moment,
pondering a renewed freedom before kicking off
into the pool. And then I wondered why I sat
there with tears in my eyes. It was an easy answer.
Thanks Dad, for giving me that fly. I needed it.
I took a few more from the pool, another on a Tak's,
but a different fly--the original wound up in a
tree right over where the trout, my trout, had
taken it. I suppose it was a memento. A third,
about 8 inches and just as vivid as the first
took a tiny Royal Coachman I had tied for my
girlfriend with a promise I'd fish it and make
it mean something. The last ate a Mickey Finn,
one of the original batch I'd tied up three years
previous for the trout in the pond back home.
It's funny how these things come full circle.
~ Nate Gubbins